Publications
One Smartphone, 100 Million Users, & Privatizing Faith Print E-mail
Articles

07jacoby-superJumbo(Free Inquiry June 2, 2017)

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So far, it’s been a tough start to the new century for Christians what with the growth of the new Atheists, the Nones, those disaffiliated with mainstream religion, a secularized culture, and a government unsure how to define “religious liberty” and “sincerely held religious belief.” And yet the faith shows no signs of succumbing to the onslaught—not by a longshot. It’s reprogramming itself with new transmedial wiring and reassigned roles. Corporate CEOs are the new clergy. Social media, the new church. Global warming is the latest plague of locusts, requiring God-like intervention to keep it at bay. Islam is reverse engineering the Roman empire, arriving inside the Trojan horse of Middle Eastern Muslim refugees. (I’m not sure to whom I can compare radical Jihadists: Yahweh? Judas? Gentiles? Centurions?). Pharmaceuticals, whether it’s the companies or their pills, are the new sacraments. Technology has become the new liberation theology. Google is God.

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Music & JFK's Legacy Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

artblog barber with the kennedys 800x450(Written for WQXR, NYC's Classical Radio Station May 24, 2017)

If we include in an overview of JFK’s classical musical legacy, those compositional masterpieces that honored him after his death, two pieces jump out of the field for me: Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Mass was commissioned by his wife, Jackie, to open the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1971. Bernstein used the venue’s function—performance—literally: he stitched together a transmedial work that combined the best of Brahms’ German Requiem, The Who’s Tommy, and his own Candide.

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San Diego's Top 12 Donors Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20170419(San Diego Reader April 19, 2017)

San Diego’s richest person is someone I’ve never heard of: Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer. The Rancho Santa Fe resident owns a 7 percent stake in the family business, Cargill, a purveyor of grain and agricultural commodities with forays into financial services and a hedge fund. For a woman whose estimated worth is $4.3 billion, Meyer keeps the lowest of profiles. She lives and trains horses at her Coral Reef Ranch and is a champion jumper.

Forbes magazine, whose definitive billionaire lists are the oligarch’s equivalent of the Oscars’ red carpet, drops Meyer into their “Silver Spoon” bowl — those who did absolutely nothing to earn their fortune. All inheritance. Cargill, America’s largest private company, is independently managed but owned by two families. Forbes says, “They are richer than the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies combined.” Lord knows I’ve searched, but I can’t find any charity she supports. Maybe her giveaways are anonymous. Maybe Meyer is Scrooge McDuck. But many of the gifts of San Diego’s wealthiest donors are well known, in part, because the check-writing moment, if possible to stage, is a media event charities dream of and publicize.

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What I Am Not Yet, I Am Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

st.-augustine-of-hippo-icon-full-of-grace-and-truth-excerpt-from-the-encomium-to-st-nicholas-pic(Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies April 1, 2017)

The first person in Western literature to write his spiritual journey is Augustine (354-430 CE), author of Confessions, (399). In this Christian autobiography, he testifies to what he knows and to what he’s been instructed by God he should know. Writing in Latin, Augustine tells the struggle between his self (bad) and his soul (good), which, he believes, mirrors the physical wounds Christ’s endured. (Christ’s self and soul were both good.) When I read Augustine, I see that his selfish choices have been so immoral and his soul so scarred that he is in danger of losing God’s grace, in danger of forgoing Heaven. These dangers are not abstract, not mere Christian principle. No, they are real, and they take place in each individual’s sinful life. Who among the growing Christian population can confess to such a sinful life? Augustine volunteers, as it were. Speaking and writing wholly for himself, he attests to his failure to live up to the virtues God commands of him, commands that all but Christ fail to uphold. But still one must try to redeem oneself by declaring and overcoming one’s sins. No small task, Augustine knows what he should do: convert, confess, renounce all competing beliefs, and receive the Holy Spirit. He must bear this news for everyone to read. Thus, if he proves himself worthy—in life and in writing—he will be saved, he will gain eternal life. Augustine must ask this not of God but of himself.

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What It Was My Father Came Here to Get Away From Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dad Pre-War(River Teeth 18.2 Spring, 2017)

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As early as I can remember, my father hated Catholics. Actually, he despised all religious people. He called believers hypocrites; priests and pastors, pimps. He rarely spoke of this enmity or, for that matter, much else personal, including his years aboard a Pacific Ocean supply ship during the Second World War. “Hurry up and wait,” he told my brothers and me. That was the only combat he faced. No story bayoneting Japs ever emerged. Maybe, contrary to my comic-book idea of war then, there wasn’t any. So, when he unloaded on religion, I was piqued by the sibilant sounds of those scandalous words, hypocrites and pimps, and the frosty certainty with which he iced his dismissal.

His disdain for God’s henchmen on earth began and ended with two betrayals—one, his body, the other, his soul, though he would have denied the latter had any substance left. Born in 1914, in Evanston, Illinois, he was given up at birth, probably by immigrants, a Bohemian mother and a Swedish father. That day, he was adopted by the childless Larsons, (another) Swedish father who was irascible and belt-prone and an English mother who cradled the baby to daily mass. They named him John Joseph Milton, the first two referencing Jesus, the third an artistic aspiration. My mother said Dad figured out long before he asked them about his adoption that he wasn’t theirs—what gave it away was his swarthy skin and his inborn suspiciousness.

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Through the Veil One Sees: On Richard Selzer Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

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(AWP Panel on Narrative Medicine, February 9, 2017)

On the surface, the doctor and the surgeon appear to be equals. Both help the body heal based on a patient’s symptoms. Both know that physical pain creates psychic stress. Both seek a cause of an illness, working from clues garnered via observation, medical history, complaints, tests, and the physician’s intuition. At times, a patient’s problem is obvious, skin-deep. Other times, the problem is multilayered, elusive.

Here, doctor and surgeon part company, where doctor defers to surgeon who will, knife in hand, uncover the culpable agent, not on the body or in the mind but inside the body where the mire lies. The doctor sends you for tests and the lab techs, post-diagnosis, send you to the surgeon to slice the Thanksgiving turkey with laser, laprascope, or blade.

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The Purgatorial Trenches of Wilfred Owen Print E-mail
Articles

TS Jan 2017(The Truth Seeker January 15, 2017)

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In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes how humankind made up from the intolerable “helplessness” of our childhood fears and the hellish randomness of nature, fate, and human society the balm of religion—in our jurisdiction, Christianity. His is among the most cogent explanations for a system of divine judgment and afterlife protection that insists people conform to the creator’s (human-authored) mandate. Freud says “the gist” of the Christian presumption is this:

"Life in the world serves a higher purpose; no doubt it is not easy to guess what that purpose is, but it certainly signifies a perfecting of man’s nature. It is probably the spiritual part of man, the soul, which in the course of time has so slowly and unwillingly detached itself from the body, that is the object of this elevation and exaltation. Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the intentions of an intelligence superior to us . . . which in the end . . . orders everything for the best."

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